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Summer was always a heat and health risk for UPS workers. Then came COVID-19

August 15, 2020

Adiel Kaplan and Lisa Riordan Seville
NBC News

During the summer of coronavirus UPS drivers are working 12 hour shifts delivering a record number of packages in record heat, all while wearing masks.Business has soared for UPS as Americans have turned to home delivery during the pandemic, but employees say heavy workloads, COVID-19 safety measures and sweltering summer heat are pushing them to the limit.

But despite a growing attention to the role of essential workers, advocates said OSHA, which polices workplaces, has failed to protect them.

“It’s unthinkable to me what has been happening with OSHA,” said Terri Gerstein, senior fellow at the Economic Policy Institute and director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at Harvard Law School. “They are abdicating their duty to enforce the law.”... Read more about Summer was always a heat and health risk for UPS workers. Then came COVID-19

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Uber Says Gig Workers Are Their Own Bosses — But Courts Disagree

August 11, 2020

WHIZY KIM
Refinery29com

According to some estimates, over 50 million people today may be engaged in some type of gig work. In the side hustle economy, gig work has become a necessity to make ends meet while also providing some flexibility that a typical 9 to 5 wouldn’t. But gig workers are facing an identity crisis now, especially those working for popular app-based companies like Uber, Lyft, Postmates, or Doordash. Are they their own self-employed bosses, or are they employees?

“When workers are misclassified as independent contractors, it has a lot of serious implications,” says Gerstein. That includes all the protections, which have been especially crucial during the pandemic.... Read more about Uber Says Gig Workers Are Their Own Bosses — But Courts Disagree

Many workers don’t get new paid sick leave, because of ‘broad’ exemption for providers, report finds

Many workers don’t get new paid sick leave, because of ‘broad’ exemption for providers, report finds

August 11, 2020

By Eli Rosenberg
Washington Post

A government watchdog said in a report out Tuesday that the Labor Department “significantly broadened” an exemption allowing millions of health-care workers to be denied paid sick leave as part of the law Congress passed in March to help workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

But an Office of the Inspector General report noted that a move by the Labor Department to more broadly expand how they categorize health-care providers ended up leaving far more workers without a guarantee of paid sick leave than the agency’s estimate of 9 million.

Actions taken to enforce the sick-leave provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act have skewed even further away from investigations: 85 percent have been resolved through conciliations.

“These numbers just look so different than the numbers that I’m used to seeing in terms of conciliations versus investigations,” said Sharon Block, a senior Obama administration labor department official. “It really does jump out. That 85 percent is just a really big number.”

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With OSHA as an Employer Advice Columnist, States and Cities Should Protect Workers from COVID-19

August 11, 2020

BY DEBBIE BERKOWITZ & TERRI GERSTEIN
Morning Consult

Given the scope of the current crisis, states and cities can’t completely fill the void left by a nonfunctioning OSHA. But we’ve all seen the charts showing state variations in COVID rates. State and local leadership unquestionably can make a meaningful difference in the health of our communities. Keeping workers safe is one of the most important actions that government leaders can take to stop the spread of the virus — and enable long-term economic recovery. It won’t be easy; politics is complex, and corporate interests will fight tooth and nail against new workplace protections. But people’s lives are in the balance. It would be government malpractice not even to try. 
... Read more about With OSHA as an Employer Advice Columnist, States and Cities Should Protect Workers from COVID-19

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From elevator etiquette to break room buddies, your burning questions about a return to work

August 6, 2020
By Ben Popken
NBC News

Only 47 percent of employees said improved safety measures would make them feel comfortable returning to the office, according to a recent survey.

“OSHA is supposed to protect workers. All they’ve done is issue suggestions and voluntary guidance,” to employers,” said Sharon Block, former Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA and current executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.

OSHA has “turned everything over to employers to inspect themselves,” Block said. “If workers can’t rely on the federal government to stand up for them, they have to stand up for themselves.” Some workers have been fired for speaking up about conditions, she said.

OSHA didn’t respond to an NBC News request for comment.

Block recommended that concerned employees should document conditions at work and, if they feel unsafe, workers can consider leaving and filing for unemployment, using the unsafe conditions as justification.

“But the employer can fight it, and then the employee is in a legal fight with their employer while trying to put food on the table,” she said.... Read more about From elevator etiquette to break room buddies, your burning questions about a return to work

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The 1 Percent’s Attack on Unemployment Benefits is a Sign of Our Broken Democracy

July 31, 2020

by Adam Shah
Inequality.org

Members of the One Percent, such as former restaurateur Andrew Puzder, have urged Congress to not renew the $600 a week unemployment supplement Congress enacted as part of the CARES Act. They argue, in Puzder’s words, that “this $600 per week bonus is discouraging work” for low-wage earners.

No one receiving unemployment benefits will make themselves rich on unemployment. The $600 is not a huge incentive to stay home.  Even in the states with higher base benefits, the minimum unemployment benefits plus the supplement, leave unemployed people earning less than a living wage far below the U.S. median income.

But working people need more than enforced protections for union organizing, we need their voices and expertise at the center of the  Coronavirus recession recovery efforts. Harvard Law School’s Clean Slate for Worker Power project and the Roosevelt Institute have put forward detailed proposals on how to include worker voices during the Covid-19 recovery.... Read more about The 1 Percent’s Attack on Unemployment Benefits is a Sign of Our Broken Democracy

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SAFEGUARDING EMPLOYEE HEALTH WHILE RETURNING TO WORK

July 28, 2020

by Duke Today Staff
in Duke Today

Employees planning a return to their workplaces face a series of obstacles thanks in part to failures by the federal government, three experts said recently during a panel discussion at Duke. The July 9 panel was part of the Duke University Initiative for Science and Society's ongoing “Coronavirus Conversations” series. 

Panel participant Sharon Block, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, added that “every workplace [should] have a safety monitor who can provide information and confidential advice to workers about their right to a safe workplace.” 

“There are no OSHA regulations specific to coronavirus transmission,” Ms. Block says.  “In the past,” she said, OSHA has “looked at CDC guidance and said to employers, this is the best thing that we know … in short order about how to protect workers. So we're going to enforce CDC guidance.”

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Creativity And Diversity: How Exposure To Different People Affects Our Thinking

July 27, 2020

Shankar Vedantam
Jennifer Schmidt
Parth Shah
Tara Boyle
Hidden Brain Podcast, NPR

Social scientist Adam Galinsky has found that people who have deep relationships with someone from another country become more creative and score higher on routine creativity tests.

"There's something about deeply understanding and learning about another culture that's transformative," Adam says.

Harvard economics professor Richard Freeman has an interesting study on diversity in science. He found that published scientific research receives greater attention if the authors are ethnically diverse.... Read more about Creativity And Diversity: How Exposure To Different People Affects Our Thinking

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No Mask, No Service Rules Leave Workers Open to Customer Abuse

July 21, 2020

Robert Iafolla
Fatima Hussein
Bloomberg Law

Retail and food service workers who face verbal abuse and even physical violence from customers objecting to pandemic mask requirements have little legal guarantee that their employers will protect them.

“Mask requirements protect workers and create legal and social norms,” said Terri Gerstein, director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at Harvard University’s Labor and Worklife Program. “Not having mask requirements makes it exponentially harder for businesses to require them, and it sets up workers at retail establishments and in the service industry to have exactly these kinds of confrontations.”... Read more about No Mask, No Service Rules Leave Workers Open to Customer Abuse

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These Furloughed Workers Must Sign Arbitration Agreements To Get Their Jobs Back

July 22, 2020

Dave Jamieson
HuffPost

Jana Alexander was furloughed from her job at The Container Store when the pandemic began in early spring. With the economy reopening, the company recently invited her back to her old position at her store in Southlake, Texas. But there was a catch.

Alexander would have to sign an arbitration agreement, giving up her right to sue The Container Store in court if she was mistreated. Her welcome-back letter made clear she had little choice in the matter if she wanted to draw a paycheck: “This job offer is contingent upon agreeing to our Mutual...

Read more about These Furloughed Workers Must Sign Arbitration Agreements To Get Their Jobs Back
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The second wave of essential workers

July 21, 2020

Erica Pandey
Axios

"With most of the country reopening — whether it's safe or not — workers in so many occupations are put in the untenable position of having to choose between being able to sustain their families or putting their health at risk," says Sharon Block, executive director of the labor and work-life program at Harvard Law School.

Teachers are under tremendous pressure as some cities and states push forward on reopening schools.

... Read more about The second wave of essential workers

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Joint committee meeting Wednesday to discuss worker safety

July 8, 2020

Anchorage, Alaska (KINY)

The Alaska House State Affairs and Health and Social Services standing committees will hold a joint meeting. The meeting will focus on worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those testifying will include Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka, Director of Personnel and Labor Relations Kate Sheehan, Labor Standards and Safety Director Joseph Knowles, Alaska Occupational Safety and Health Senior Enforcement Officer Brandon Field, Alaska Occupational Safety and Health Chief of Consultation Elaine Banda, Statewide Director of the National...

Read more about Joint committee meeting Wednesday to discuss worker safety
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'We Need Help': People At Higher Coronavirus Risk Fear Losing Federal Unemployment

July 7, 2020

Chris Arnold
All Things Considered

Many people with underlying medical conditions are worried about what's going to happen at the end of the month. It's not currently safe for many of them to go back to work. The COVID-19 death rate is 12 times higher for people with underlying conditions.

Block says the added federal benefits are needed for unemployed workers in general — but especially for those with serious underlying health conditions.

"They're very, very vulnerable to retaliation for speaking out when it's this kind of labor market," she says. "Most workers have to be afraid that an employer could very easily replace them if they make trouble."

Block's program at Harvard just released a report on what state officials can do to require mandatory rules to make workplaces safer. She says the focus is on what states can do because so far there are basically no federal mandatory safety workplace requirements for the pandemic.... Read more about 'We Need Help': People At Higher Coronavirus Risk Fear Losing Federal Unemployment

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How the American Worker Got Fleeced

July 3, 2020

Story by Josh Eidelson
Data analysis and graphics by Christopher Cannon
Bloomberg Businessweek

For Americans with a less fancy résumé than the typical physician or Google engineer, the coronavirus has exacerbated an already dire lack of employment security. A great many essential workers have been growing, picking, tending, slaughtering, packing, preparing, and delivering food throughout the country without paid sick days. While other countries moved quickly to backstop payrolls and freeze their economies more or less in place, the U.S. let 40 million people go unemployed and has kept many of them waiting months for temporary assistance.

In January, Harvard Law School’s Labor & Worklife Program, following a year of discussions among ­working groups of activists and scholars, released a sweeping proposal to reboot labor law from a “clean slate,” including by ending at-will employment, installing elected “workplace monitors” in every U.S. workplace, and establishing a “sectoral bargaining” process à la Europe. Advocates say such a system, in which labor and management hash out industry­wide standards, would help fix one of the flaws baked into the NLRA: As long as collective bargaining rights are limited to the individual companies where workers have won a unionization election, executives have an overwhelming incentive to fight like hell to stop that from happening, and they have cause to fear they’ll be outcompeted by lower-cost rivals if they don’t.

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Protecting Workers through Publicity: Promoting Workplace Law Compliance through Strategic Communication

June 30, 2020


By: Terri Gerstein and Tanya Goldman

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program have released a new toolkit on strategic communication, a critical component of driving compliance with workplace laws. Communicating about agency enforcement, which is critical to informing the public about their rights and responsibilities, is one of the most effective ways to deter violations. These goals are more important than ever as labor enforcement agencies strive to protect workers during the coronavirus pandemic. This resource addresses why agencies should use media and other means of strategic communications and offers suggestions on how to do so. In a moment of reduced state budgets and limited resources, media coverage and strategic communications are a cost-effective way for agencies to multiply their impact and inform workers of their rights.

Download Toolkit
... Read more about Protecting Workers through Publicity: Promoting Workplace Law Compliance through Strategic Communication

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